The Practice of Gongyo
The Liturgy of Nichiren Daishonin
The Meaning of Gongyo
(Source: Lectures on the
Sutra: The Hoben and Juryo Chapters)
On many occasions throughout the Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin
refers to himself as "a votary of the Lotus Sutra."
By that he means someone who translates every word of the
Lotus Sutra into action and shows undeniable proof of the
truth that it contains. After Shakyamuni, T'ien-t'ai in
China and Dengyo in Japan each interpreted and spread the
Lotus Sutra as votaries of the sutra in their own age, the
Middle Day of the Law. In the Latter Day of the Law, Nichiren
Daishonin propagated the sutra and lived its teachings exactly,
fulfilling its predictions.
He also revealed in its entirety the ultimate Law implicit
in the Lotus Sutra. The sutra mentions this one great Law
in various ways but does not define it specifically. Nichiren
Daishonin revealed it as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three
Great Secret Laws, and through this clarification, he pointed
the way for all people to overcome their sufferings and
for each individual to attain enlightenment. For this reason,
too, he called himself "the votary of the Lotus Sutra."
Nichiren Daishonin not only revealed Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,
but embodied this great Law in the Dai-Gohonzon, the object
of worship for attaining Buddhahood in the Latter Day of
the Law. The Dai-Gohonzon is the concrete manifestation
of Nichiren Daishonin's enlightenment to the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
For that reason, the Dai-Gohonzon embodies the perfect fusion
of the Law, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and the Person, Nichiren
Daishonin. The "Ongi Kuden" (Record of the Orally
Transmitted Teachings) states, "The Buddha eternally
endowed with the three properties [the Buddha of kuon
ganjo or the original Buddha] is the votary of the Lotus
Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law." (Gosho Zenshu
p. 752) It also states, "The object of worship is the
entity of the life of the votary of the Lotus Sutra."(Gosho
Zenshu p. 752). "The votary of the Lotus Sutra"
here means the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, who
is Nichiren Daishonin.
The most basic practice in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism
is gongyo, which consists of reciting portions of the Lotus
Sutra and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (daimoku) to the
Gohonzon. Doing this daily, morning and evening, serves
to praise the power and greatness of the Gohonzon and to
unite our life with the Gohonzon. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
is called the primary practice, and enables us to fuse our
life with the Gohonzon. Reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra
is called the supplementary practice, and helps fulfill
the primary goal of fusing one's life with the Gohonzon.
One might wonder how reciting the Lotus Sutra could be efficacious
when one cannot understand the sutra's meaning. Actually, a great
many [Soka Gakkai] believers perform gongyo without understanding
its meaning; this is true of many Japanese and Chinese people
as well as those of other nations. The version of the Lotus Sutra
we recite in gongyo is taken from the translation Kumarajiva made
from Sanskrit into Chinese, and uses the same characters which
are now utilized in the Chinese and Japanese languages. The phraseology
is archaic, however, and quite different from modern Chinese or
Japanese. It is no easy task, even for [Soka Gakkai] believers
who can read Chinese characters, to understand the meaning of
what they are reciting.
Most of us recite the Lotus Sutra during gongyo without
a clear, precise understanding of its words. Its essence,
however, lies within the depths of our lives, in the realm
of the unconscious mind, where we can grasp the ultimate
meaning of the Lotus Sutra. Reciting the Lotus Sutra enables
us to praise the Gohonzon with our entire being and assists
us, as we chant daimoku, in becoming one with the object
of worship. Through the practice of gongyo we can experience
the inexhaustible life force of Buddhahood which rises from
the depths of our being.
The Lotus Sutra consists of twenty-eight chapters, and
among these, the second or Hoben chapter and the
sixteenth or Juryo chapter are especially important. The
Lotus Sutra's preeminence among all the sutras lies in its
assertion that all people can become Buddhas as Shakyamuni
did, and in its philosophy which provides the theoretical
explanation for this possibility.
In the Hoben chapter Shakyamuni begins to impart
his enlightenment to his disciples. He reveals for the first
time that all people have equal potential to attain Buddhahood.
In the Juryo chapter he declares that he actually
attained Buddhahood before this lifetime-in the distant
past called gohyaku jintengo. By revealing his own
Buddhahood to be of such long duration, he points to the
Buddha nature eternally inherent in all human beings. Nichiren
Daishonin taught that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the Law Shakyamuni
revered to attain Buddhahood in the distant past of gohyaku-jintengo.
By reciting the Juryo chapter, we are praising
the great power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and by reciting
the Hoben chapter, we express the belief that this
power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is inherent in our lives,
will become manifest and lead us toward Buddhahood. With
this expectation deep in our lives we praise the supreme
While we praise the Law, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we also express
gratitude to the Person, Nichiren Daishonin. Reciting the
Juryo chapter is an expression of gratitude to Nichiren
Daishonin, who first revealed the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,
which is the teacher of all the Buddhas of past, present
and future. Reciting the Hoben chapter, on the other
hand, gives voice to our awe and respect for the Daishonin
as the Buddha who made it possible for us, the people in
the Latter Day of the Law, to become Buddhas and enjoy the
same state of enlightenment as his own.
The Hoben and Juryo chapters are clearly
the most important chapters in the Lotus Sutra, and that
is why the Gosho exhorts us to recite the Hoben and
Juryo chapters and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
The word Hoben, literally "means," here
indicates preparatory teachings which are meant to lead
people to the true teaching. To illustrate, they function
like a bus, car or train carrying us from home to school
or office. If study or work is the destination, then hoben
is the means of getting there. Since both study and
work are vital to improve life and be able to live a more
truly human existence, these "means" are very
One reason the Hoben chapter is so called is because
in it, Shakyamuni declares the preparatory nature of everything
taught in the forty-two years before he expounded the Lotus
Sutra. Everything was aimed only at leading people to the
Lotus Sutra. This chapter is a statement, then, that the
Lotus Sutra is the only true teaching. It is also called
the Hoben chapter because it reveals that the life-activities
of common mortals of the nine worlds are the means by which
they manifest Buddhahood.
If, as the Hoben chapter shows, the Buddha nature
is intrinsic to our lives and we are therefore potential
Buddhas, to manifest the Buddha nature is the goal, and
the nine worlds are the means to attain it. For example,
everyone has problems in daily life. They may be family
troubles, difficulties at work, or character flaws. But
when those problems compel us to pray to the Gohonzon, they
become the "means" which lead to our human revolution.
The meaning of hoben also applies to Shakyamuni's
teaching in the Lotus Sutra itself. The sutra is basically
a "means" leading to the ultimate truth, which
is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws. Not
even in the Lotus Sutra itself did Shakyamuni Buddha clearly
reveal the Law to which he was enlightened.
Nichiren Daishonin revealed this ultimate truth in the
Latter Day of the Law. Even then, from one perspective,
what the Daishonin taught is still a means-the only means
in the Latter Day-to attain our enlightenment. Through our
faith, practice and study based on the Gohonzon, in which
the Daishonin embodied his enlightenment, we experience
the truth in the depths of our being and make it the basis
of our lives. As Nichiren Daishonin wrote to Lady Nichinyo,
"Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon
exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people
who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo."
('Major Writings vol. 1, p.213.)
So far in this discussion we have talked about means as
distinguished from the end, truth or result. But we also
find instances where the means is not only closely connected
to the end but also becomes the end in itself. The purpose
of participating in sports, for example, is not merely to
win a gold medal. An even greater purpose is the strengthening
of one's body and mind through the serious pursuit of sports.
In this case, means and end are inseparable.
In Buddhism a preparatory teaching (means) which simultaneously
contains the true teaching (end) is called himyo hoben.
Hi means "hidden," that is, the truth hidden
in the preparatory teachings; myo means "beyond
conception" or "unfathomable." In this sense,
the hoben or "means" referred to in the
second chapter are both teachings preliminary to the truth
and, looking more deeply, teachings containing the truth.
Now let us reconsider what we have said so far about hoben
in light of himyo hoben. From this perspective,
it is apparent that the sutras taught before the Lotus Sutra
are not merely preparatory teachings set down to lead people
to the true teaching, but each of them contains part of
the truth. Even so, the entire truth is contained only in
the Lotus Sutra. After grasping the truth in the Lotus Sutra,
we can go back to the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings and discover
important points even within the partial truths they contain.
When a part of the truth is seen within the context of the
whole, it can be a trustworthy guide.
A similar relationship exists between Buddhahood and the
other nine worlds. In a sense, the nine worlds are no more
than a means to achieve the highest state of Buddhahood,
but consider whether the Buddha's life could exist without
the nine worlds. Even to imagine such a possibility is to
miss the whole point of the Lotus Sutra's teaching. There
can be no state of Buddhahood without the other nine worlds;
they are necessary and integral components of life. As long
as human beings are composed of flesh and blood, whether
they are Buddhas or not, they will have the desires and
instincts indispensable to living as men and women. They
intrinsically possess all of the nine worlds, from Hell
to Bodhisattva. The nine worlds are each distinct states,
but they are also inseparable, and, when based on the Law
of life, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, they all work to create value
within the dynamics of one's external circumstances.
Parts must be related to the whole in order to be of any
use. If an arm is separated from the body, it cannot function.
Only when an arm is part of the body can it fulfill the
specific functions of writing, painting or holding things.
When we base our lives on the Mystic Law, the ultimate truth
of life, all our activities in human society will produce
value. We do this by practicing gongyo. It connects us directly
to the Mystic Law, and thus enables us to live with vigor,
purpose and positive results.
We have said that Shakyamuni's teachings in the Lotus Sutra
are the "means" and the "truth" is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
And from one viewpoint, even the practice Nichiren Daishonin
revealed and taught is a means leading to the "end"
of attaining Buddhahood. However, from a deeper viewpoint,
carrying out this means in itself contains the end. Reciting
the Lotus Sutra and chanting daimoku is the means, while
manifesting Buddhahood is the end. However, we manifest
Buddhahood in the very act of reciting the Lotus Sutra and
daimoku; the means and the end are thus inseparable.
The Juryo chapter reveals the unfathomable depth and duration
of Shakyamuni's enlightenment. Hence the title: Ju means
the Buddha's life span, specifically that of Shakyamuni,
and ryo means to fathom. To "fathom the Buddha's life
span" means to know how long he has been the Buddha.
It does not mean that the Juryo chapter reveals the
"eternity of life" itself Belief in the eternity
of life was widespread among virtually all ancient Indian
philosophers long before the advent of Buddhism and therefore
did not merit discussion in the Juryo chapter. The
chapter focuses on the length of Shakyamuni's life as a
Buddha, i.e., how much time has passed since he originally
Here Shakyamuni introduces an unimaginably distant time
called gohyaku-jintengo, when he first attained Buddhahood,
and declares that since that time he has always been teaching
the Law in this world to save humankind. His contemporaries
looked upon Shakya-muni as a prince who began religious
austerities as a youth and finally became enlightened at
Buddhagaya. No one even considered the possibility that
he might have been a Buddha before then, and when he did
attain Buddhahood, they thought it was because he was someone
special. The Juryo chapter showed the error of their
Still people were doubtful. They wondered why the Buddha,
having attained enlightenment long ago, was born a common
mortal who carried out religious practices just as others
who are still seeking the Way do. Why was he not born a
Buddha, they wondered. The answer to this question is that
even when one has attained Buddhahood, the other nine worlds
do not disappear from his life. A Buddha appears in the
world as an ordinary person possessing the nine worlds.
This corresponds to the principle revealed in the Hoben
chapter, that common mortals of the nine worlds all
inherently possess the world of Buddhahood. It cannot exist
apart from the nine worlds, nor vice versa, for both are
always inherent in life. This relationship is described
as himyo hoben.
Although they both teach the inseparability of Buddhahood
and the nine worlds, the Hoben and Juryo chapters
are written from different viewpoints. That is, the Hoben
chapter reveals that the nine worlds inherently possess
Buddhahood, while the Juryo chapter shows that Buddhahood
retains the nine worlds. In addition, the Hoben chapter
shows Buddhahood only as a potential within people's lives,
but the Juryo chapter depicts Buddhahood as a manifest
reality in the person of Shakyamuni.
The Juryo chapter reveals that Shakyamuni has been
a Buddha since gohyaku-jintengo, a span of time far
beyond one's imagination. Nevertheless, although in-calculably
long, gohyaku-jintengo is still a finite period.
Shakyamuni practiced the Law to become a Buddha at the time
of gohyaku-jintengo, but the Law itself is eternal.
It has neither beginning nor end, yet it is not an external
existence; it is present both in the universe and equally
within all our lives.
As Nichiren Daishonin's disciples, we read the Juryo
chapter to praise the eternal Buddha who, in the Latter
Day of the Law, appeared as Nichiren Daishonin. We likewise
read this chapter in praise of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the
Law which is the entity of the eternal Buddha.
The eternal life of the Buddha, which is itself the Law,
is embodied in the Gohonzon. When we read the Juryo
chapter and chant the daimoku, the Buddha's life-state is
realized from within our own being, leading us also to eternal
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